The salmon initiative is bad law
By former attorneys general Craig Richards, John Burns, Michael Geraghty, Dave Marquez and Sen. Dan Sullivan
As former Alaska attorneys general, and Alaskans fortunate enough to call this great state home, we urge Alaskans to vote no on Ballot Measure 1.
Those who drafted our Alaska Constitution understood that the protection of our natural resources was of the utmost importance, but they also acknowledged that a state with an abundance of natural resources, yet thinly populated and with little connectivity in terms of a road system, would have to rely on responsible development. This principle is best expressed in Article VIII, Section 1 of our constitution, which states that "it is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest."
Ballot Measure 1 disrupts this balance to the detriment of all Alaskans. The Alaska Supreme Court recently ruled that the initiative could remain on the ballot, but only after striking its unconstitutional sections. However, even after striking the most onerous provisions, the court observed that "viewed as a whole," it was apparent that Ballot Measure 1 would create a broad new definition of what is protected fish habitat and make Alaska's "fish habitat protection statutes significantly more restrictive."
For example, Ballot Measure 1 contains, according to the Alaska Supreme Court, "a plethora of undefined terms." For landowners trying to comply with the law, this is a step in the wrong direction — and this is just as true for an entity seeking to develop a large mine as it is for land owners wishing to install a culvert on their property. It also radically expands the opportunity for legal challenges to granted permits, allowing anyone to challenge a permit in court, resulting in costly delays and endless litigation.
Under current laws and regulations, studies are required to determine whether a body of water contains certain kinds of fish. If Ballot Measure 1 passes, this flips, and all waters in the state will be assumed to be fish habitat until proved otherwise. This has the potential to create a legal quagmire for property owners, especially private citizens. Thousands of Alaskans have riverfront or lakefront property, and there are many improvements to property that might affect a body of water, such as a stream, running on private property. Ballot Measure 1 may force a landowner to pay for an expensive habitat study to prove that fish will not be affected by a planned improvement.
Worse, Ballot Measure 1 changes the penalties from civil to criminal for property owners who fail to secure the required permits. Failure to seek a permit for even minor construction activity in a river flood plain, which encompasses huge areas of Alaska, will make individual Alaskans, workers on municipal projects, and business owners criminals under our laws.
We are not alone in expressing grave doubts. We join dozens of groups and organizations in opposing this ballot measure. Contractors, regional and village Native corporations, labor unions, resource development and energy companies, and responsible Alaskans are rightfully concerned that another significant project may never be built in this state if the initiative passes — and this would certainly be true for rural Alaska as well.
Ballot Measure 1 is a bad law. It has not been subject to public comment, hearings or review by regulators or independent scientists. Alaska deserves better than Ballot Measure 1, and we urge Alaskan voters to reject this fatally flawed measure when they vote on Nov. 6.
Craig Richards, John Burns, Michael Geraghty, Dave Marquez and Sen. Dan Sullivan each formerly served as Alaska Attorney General.